From War Horse to From Here to Eternity, war has been the backdrop for a number of stage productions over the years, and as we mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day separated from others, a new war based musical was made available online for us to enjoy from the comfort of our own homes. Originally staged and recorded in 2018 at the Mercury Theatre Colchester, Pieces of String is a cross generational story flitting between the days of the second world war with soldier Edward and the modern day where his grown daughter and grandchildren are clearing out his home on the day of his funeral.
With the book, music and lyrics by Gus Gowland, this beautiful production stars a number of talented performers including Craig Mather as Edward, Carol Starks as Jane, Andy Coxon as Ed and Joel Harper-Jackson as Tom. What this show does it takes a simple every day idea of cleaning out a home after a death and packing away old belongings and uses that event as the starting point of a story that spans generations as the family discovers a long covered secret about their father and grandfather. And the story that is uncovered is a very human one, a story that may touch upon the lives of many in the audience.
The music of this production is simply gorgeous, flowing through the action effortlessly and tying the narrative together neatly. From start to end, we are taken on a journey with this music and this story, from simple beginnings through the turmoil of war on a voyage of the character’s self discoveries. We see Edward discover truths about himself and take on secrets that he will carry with him through his entire life, and we see his family uncovering these secrets years ago, with the truth sending shock waves through the family as Edward’s daughter Jane is forced to come to terms with the issues she has with her son Ed.
Although the story bounces back and forth between the 1940’s and the present day, the action cleverly takes place all on one set, with minimal changes to the surroundings. A dusty old house becomes a corner of peace in a war zone and a much loved home where a young couple hoped to spend their days happy together. It’s all very effective and allows for the action from the two time settings to interact with each other, as if a character in the present day is looking back at long lost memories and seeing them play out for the very first time.
There are impressive performances throughout, including Craig Mather as Edward. The character is instantly likable, and you feel a real connection with him, and want to see him come through everything and be alright on the other side of it all. Mather’s lovely vocals have a wonderful emotional depth, adding to the character and his chemistry with Joel Harper-Jackson as Tom is believable and altogether charming. As Tom, Harper-Jackson is heartbreaking. This character is a dreamer, for he really sees a future, a way through everything and he tries with all his might to present that future to Edward. As the show comes to an end, it is Tom that I really felt for, because he had been so hopeful.
Carol Starks, Andy Coxon and Ella Dunlop play Jane, Ed and Gemma respectively, the family from the present day who discover long covered up secrets on the day of Edward’s funeral. They are a family at war, constantly at each other’s thoughts as Gemma fights to learn more about her family’s past and Jane tries to hide it all away as Ed just wants to be understood and respected for being who he is. Marilyn Cutts plays Rose, a stranger who enters their home and begins to sow the seeds of the truth in their lives and Lauren Hall plays Anna, Edward’s wife who dreams of an idyllic future together with her husband once the war is over.
Pieces of String tells an important story, one that still needs to be told in this day and age and I, for one, hope that this isn’t the last that we see of it. I would love to see it live on stage one day, to hear that beautiful music live and to really get to feel that outpouring of emotion that you just can’t feel through a computer screen. This show deserves so much more attention, and I hope that once the theatres reopen, it is given the transfer that it deserves.